Thursday, March 31, 2011


We are getting into the thick of it now, there are eight foals on the ground for us. We have two more mares that are due in the first part of April, so we might get a short break of checking mares all night! All are doing quite well so far, and they are a good looking bunch! The pictures I have plugged in are two foals that are two weeks old now. We are working on getting our mares bred back for next year and it is a lot of work! Our oldest foals are already starting to consume Ultium Growth, and they love it!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference

Last week, I traveled to the Mid-Atlantic Nutrition Conference in Timonium, MD. It was great to see a lot of my colleagues in the horse nutrition world and they had a wonderful line-up of speakers.

The joke of the day was that many talks seemingly revolved around trying to "kill" horses! The topics were as follows:

Laminitis- presented by Dr. Teresa Burns from The Ohio State University Vet School

Ionophore Toxicity in Horses- by Dr. Ken Marcella

Mycotoxins in Horses - by Dr. Lon Whitlow from North Carolina State University

Fescue Toxicity in Horses- by Dr. Rhonda Hoffman of Middle Tennessee State University

Toxic Plants- by Dr. Anthony Knight- Colorado State University

Young Horse Nutrition and Overfeeding- by Dr. Josie Coverdale from Texas A&M

Nutrient Management Update- by Ann Swinker from Penn State University

So, as you can see, a lot of discussion about what is bad for horses, complications of feeding horses wrong or bad things and what to do about it. The most fascinating talk for me was the Toxic Plants talk by Dr. Anthony Knight. We also ate lunch together and it was great to be able to ask him questions about poisonous plants and which ones pose more of a risk than others. His take home message was two-fold: 1) Dose Matters! There can be a big difference in a horse eating a little bit of a toxic plant versus a whole pasture full of something poisonous 2) Water hemlock is THE MOST POISONOUS plant to horses. It only takes 6-8 oz of the root to kill a 1000 lb horse. Scary.... I had read Dr. Knight's books on poisonous plants, but it was wonderful to see his talk in person and get a refresher course. We specifically chatted about creeping indigo, as it is native to south Florida and I've seen my horse grab mouthfuls of this toxic plant at horse shows before I could steer him away. Good to know this is one of the lesser toxic legumes and my horse isn't about to go into convulsions!

If I were to give you one take-home message from each of the other talks, it would be this:

1) Laminitis- Remains devastating to the horse community, but cryotherapy (ice therapy) is very helpful in the acute stages for decreasing the inflammatory response. Its not always easy to implement, but get those hooves on ice as soon as possible and keep it up as your vet recommends.

2) Ionophore toxicity in horses- make sure your feed is manufactured in an ionophore free manufacturing system/plant such as our Feed Guard Model follows. To us at Purina, it is not worth the risk to our horses to make feed in a plant that has ionophores. Also, don't feed cattle feed to horses, as this is a common way horses get poisoned with ionophores.

3) Mycotoxins- again, you need to be informed on what you are feeding your horses and make sure the feed ingredients are tested for mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are naturally occurring molds that can be tested for. Every load of corn that goes into a Purina plant is tested for mycotoxins- if its not clean, it gets rejected. Again, Feed Guard helps to protect your horse from mycotoxin exposure.

4) Fescue Toxicity- this is not a new topic to horse owners, but important as a reminder all the same. Broodmares should not be maintained on endophyte positive fescue pasture, and if its unavoidable, the dopamine inhibitor Domperidone given during the last 20 days of gestation can help. If possible, only use endophyte free fescue in horse pastures.

5) Young Horse Nutrition/Overfeeding- rapid growth does not appear to increase the risk of OCD; it is the overall plane of nutrition and other factors of genetics and management that play contributory roles. Resist the temptation to rapidly decrease nutrient planes on young horses with OCD problems- they still require a BALANCED ration for growth.

6) Equine nutrient management- For those of you in the mid-atlantic states of MD, PA, NJ, etc. the regulations on manure management for large and small farms are in place and need to be learned about. Best management practices (BMPs) to minimize nutrient and sediment will need to be employed and it can be confusing figuring out where your farm fits in and what you need to do. Work closely with your ag-extension agent in your area for help.

Overall, it was a very educational day and good to spend time with colleagues and friends. If you would like more information and/or a copy of the proceedings from this conference, please visit: Have a great day!!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ration Balancers - What are they and how do I use them?

You may have heard the term “ration balancer” before, but do you know what it means and how to use it in a feeding program? Even though I’d been around horses most of my life, I had never heard the term until I was in graduate school. Ration balancers are a relatively new concept in feeding horses, and they are some of my favorite products in the Purina line because of their versatility of use. A ration balancer is a concentrated feed (usually in pelleted form) designed to be fed at a low feeding rate (~1 – 2 lbs/day) that supplies protein, vitamins, and minerals at the correct level to balance either a grass or legume-based forage program. There are several scenarios when you may want to consider feeding a ration balancer, like Nature’s Essentials Enrich 32 (to be fed with primarily grass forages) or Enrich 12 (to be fed with primarily legume forages).

The Easy Keeper

Does your horse maintain bodyweight on plenty of good quality forage? Is he currently not in work or only ridden lightly? Then he is the perfect candidate for a ration balancer. Many people think that these types of horses do just fine on forage alone, but this is not the case. Yes, these horses do not need extra calories from a grain concentrate, but they still need essential amino acids like lysine, vitamins, and minerals like copper and zinc that are not present in adequate amounts in forage. Even though it may look like a horse is “fat and sassy” on forage alone, they could be suffering from a deficiency that would not show itself until the horse becomes stressed (i.e. exposed to a virus, hauled somewhere new, etc.). A ration balancer won’t contribute a significant amount of calories to the horse’s diet because of the low feeding rate, but it will provide the essential nutrients to “balance” a ration based on forage. You can almost think of a ration balancer as a horse’s daily multi-vitamin (+ protein). Many easy keepers are also suffering from metabolic syndrome, and Enrich 32 is low in soluble carbohydrates and appropriate for horses requiring a carbohydrate-restricted diet.

Feeding below the Recommended Feeding Rate

Did you know that feed manufactures have a minimum recommended feeding rate for their feeds? At Purina, we pay close attention to this. We formulate feeds to be fed at rates ranging from 0.3 lbs – 0.9 lbs/100 lbs bodyweight, depending on the specific formula. This information can usually be found as a sentence on the feed tag stating “do not feed less than 0.X lbs per 100 lbs bodyweight per day”. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize this and end up underfeeding their horses. For example, if you are feeding a 1000 lb horse 2 lbs per day of Strategy (this might equate to ~1/2 “scoop” per day, depending on the scoop size), you are most likely not meeting all nutrient requirements, since the recommended feeding rate is 0.3 lbs/100 lbs bodyweight. I see this even more commonly with complete feeds like Equine Senior or Omolene 400. The minimum feeding rates for complete feeds are a bit higher at 0.6 lbs per 100 lbs bodyweight. This means that a 1000 lb horse should be receiving 6 lbs per day. Many horses are fed well below this level. This is where a ration balancer comes in handy. Enrich 32 works really well to “fill in the nutritional gaps” of a diet where a horse is only being fed a small amount of concentrate.

I find that I use a combination of Enrich 32 and Ultium frequently for Warmblood horses in light to moderate work (i.e. low level dressage). Warmbloods tend to be easy keepers, but those that are working do benefit from some of the unique attributes of Ultium. However, if you fed the minimum recommended amount of this calorie-dense feed to an easy-keeper 1500 lb Hanoverian (6 lbs/day), that horse could quickly become obese! In order to be sure all nutrient requirements are met while avoiding unwanted weight gain, this horse could be fed 1 lb Enrich 32 and 2 – 4 lbs Ultium per day. This program can work quite well in many situations and is not just for Warmbloods or limited to Ultium, but for any easy keeper breed with any feed you prefer.

Feeding Straight Grains or other Unfortified Ingredients

Many people like to feed straight oats, barley, beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, etc. These are all great ingredients, but unfortunately they are not nutritionally balanced by themselves. Another great use for a ration balancer is to supplement this type of a feeding program. Basically, the plain ingredients are used as calorie and fiber sources, and the ration balancer is used to “fill in the nutritional gaps” of these ingredients, supplying essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Feeding as a protein supplement

Sometimes, a horse may benefit from additional high-quality protein in the diet. Perhaps he is returning to work after a long lay-up and needs to rebuild muscle. Perhaps he has lost muscle due to an injury or illness, and needs some additional protein in his diet to help him recover. Enrich 32 can be used in this type of situation as well, simply by top-dressing ½ - 1 lb per day over the horse’s regular daily feed.

But isn’t 32% protein TOO MUCH???

This is something that horse owners usually are concerned with if they are not familiar with a ration balancer. To understand why 32% protein is most definitely not too much, you must consider two very important things: 1) the horse’s daily protein requirement, and 2) the recommended feeding rate.

To easily illustrate this, let’s take a hypothetical 1000 lb Quarter Horse in light work. See the table below to see where the dietary protein and lysine would come from:

So, as you can see, the amount of protein contained in the recommended amount of Enrich 32 is actually LESS than the amount of protein in the recommended level of Strategy for this particular horse. You can also see that the majority of protein would be provided by the forage, but to meet the lysine requirement, additional protein is necessary. Feeding either Enrich 32 or Strategy would meet the horse’s daily protein and lysine requirements, and the decision on which to feed should be based on his body condition and calorie requirements.

There are a variety of uses for a ration balancer, and many times it is the most appropriate choice for you horse. If I had one Purina feed product that I could not live without, it would definitely be Enrich 32!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I hope we are done with snow! This picture is a week old but I felt like it had some relevance after seeing Karen's post with her new arrival. Dr. Davison is in a different part of the country than we are. The pictures are a day apart and Dr. Davison's foal looks nice and warm, while our foals were getting limited turnout in snowy conditions! It makes me think about how different conditions require different management and feeding methods even when you are in the same time period. Purina has products for all situations, but it is important to remember that each situation is unique. We understand the types of challenges our customers face and have a team of people ready to help you get the most out of whatever situation you have just a mouse click or phone call away.

The farm has had several more foals since my last post, keep checking in over the next couple of days for new foal pictures!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Babies - Cute Little Growing Machines!

Spring is so fun, nice weather and new babies arrive for us to enjoy! Mike has been posting the new arrivals at Longview Animal Nutrition Center so I thought I'd share mine. Our own broodmare mare, Dottie (Do It Stylish), a Quarter Horse mare, had her second foal for us on Friday, March 11. She had a bay stud colt and mom and foal are doing great. The first foal we had out of Dottie last year was a chestnut filly, a full sister to this year's colt. Dottie is bay and the sire, Freckled Leo Lena, is chestnut. It's always interesting to see what you get come foaling time.

Dottie has been eating Purina Strategy GX Professional Formula horse feed throughout the pregnancy. We choose to feed Strategy GX because my husband trains horses and we have over 20 horses including mares and babies, yearlings, and performance horses of all ages and levels of work. Purina Strategy GX is formulated to meet the nutritional needs of a wide range of horses and works exceptionally well while letting us have a pretty simple feeding program. It is also a great nutritional value, which is important when you are feeding so many.
During the last 3 - 4 months of Dottie's gestation, we gradually increased her feed about a pound a month so that by the time she foaled, she was eating 7 lbs per day. In addition, she eats 15 lbs of Coastal bermudagrass hay and 6 lbs of alfalfa. Dottie is 18 years old this year but her teeth are in great shape and she is doing very well eating Strategy GX and good quality hay. We don't like to let her get overweight, which she has a tendancy to do, so we are careful not to over-feed her. Dottie was a body condition score of 7 - 8 when we bought her, which is 50 - 75 lbs overweight. We adjust her feeding rate to keep her in a body condition score of 5.5 - 6.

If you aren't familiar with the body condition scoring system, go to the Purina horse website at , click on "Products" at the top of the page, then click on "Body Condition Score Chart" on the products page. This chart is a tremendous management tool. With very few exceptions, horses should be maintained in a body condition score of 5 - 6. This is very important with broodmares because when they are thinner than a score of 5 they will tend to cycle later in the year, take more cycles to become pregnant and be at higher risk to lose a pregnancy if they do become pregnant. Mares that are fatter than a body score of 6.5 don't seem to have foaling difficulties but with advancing age, the overweight mares seem to become harder to get in foal as well. This may be related to developing insulin resistance due to being obese. So, not too fat...not too thin, but just right (5 - 6 body score) is the goal for optimal reproductive efficiency in broodmares.

When Dottie foaled on Friday and her baby began to nurse, Dottie's calorie requirements increased to nearly double what they were just the day before she foaled. That is a big increase but you don't want to drastically change a mare's diet soon after she foals because mares seem to be at higher risk for colic soon after foaling. So, we already had increased her feed some before she foaled and we will gradually increase it, about 1 lb per week, until she is eating 10 - 12 lbs of Strategy per day. That is the amount that maintained her body condition well last year. These cow-bred Quarter Horse mares are pretty efficient. The amount of hay offered also increases after foaling since the baby is now out on his own, the mare has more capacity to eat more hay. The amount of Strategy she needs may be on the lower end if our hay is better quality than last year's or it may be on the higher end if we don't have as good quality hay. We'll adjust her feed as we get new hay and evaluate the quality of that hay.
Did you know that the average foal weighs 10% of their mature weight and stands at 60% of their mature height the day they are born. That means that over half of their skeletal development has already taken place before they arrive. Then, they take off from there. By the time they are 6 months old, they will have grown to around 50% of their mature weight and nearly 80% of their mature about growing machines!! This growth must be supported by sound, steady nutrition.
Dottie's foal is already showing curiosity about his surroundings and even at a few days old, he has "eaten", actually "gummed", a few Strategy pellets at feeding time. That is one of the good things about Strategy GX, it works very well for mom and it provides balanced nutrition for her foal as well. As he gets older and does begin to eat, we will adjust the amount of feed offered so he will be able to eat one pound of Strategy GX per month of age per day (1 lb at 1 month, 2 lbs at 2 months, etc.). This will provide the nutrition to support growth and development that mom's milk will lack. We don't want to over-feed him and make him overweight either, just want to make up the difference between the nutrition he needs to grow properly and what mom's milk provides. Keeping the growing foal in a body condition score of 5 means you are meeting his calorie requirements for growth but not over-doing it so they are laying down excessive body fat. We want to achieve his genetic potential for growth but not try to push him to grow faster than his body should.
We haven't named Dottie's foal yet, but when we do I'll post new pictures and an update on his nutrition program as he grows.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Truth About Food Allergies in the Horse

I spend a significant amount of time working with horse owners and veterinarians on specific nutrition questions they may have. One of the most common questions I get goes something like this:

“I just had a blood test done on my horse, and it came back that he is allergic to corn, oats, and barley. What feed does Purina make that doesn’t contain any of these ingredients?”

I don’t like getting this question, because I know the owner (or vet) will most likely not like my answer. Here’s why…

Food allergies are rare in horses and difficult to diagnose.

There are very few documented cases in the scientific literature of a true food allergy in the horse. It is believed that the overall incidence in the horse population is very low. Many symptoms that are mistakenly attributed to a food allergy in reality are environmental in origin. Allergies to pollens, molds, insects, and ingredients in topical preparations are much more common. Food allergy symptoms are usually not affected by season, and they are not affected by changes in the environment (i.e. bedding, housing location, etc.) If a horse starts to display signs of an allergic reaction (hives, runny eyes, puffy legs, itchy tail, etc.) and there has been no recent change in the diet, then it is most likely an environmental or contact allergy that you are dealing with.

Serum allergy testing is not an accurate way to diagnose a food allergy in horses.

In fact, there are several published veterinary reports that specifically recommend against using serum allergy testing as a diagnostic tool for food allergies due the high false positive rate. Unfortunately, many veterinarians in the field are still using these tests as a “quick and dirty” way to determine if a horse is allergic to something he may be eating. Yes, it is quick, but it is also dirty because the information it provides is basically irrelevant. I cannot blame the vets for doing these tests; they can be useful to identify environmental allergens. I just wish the labs that perform these tests would take out the section on “food-born” allergens; this would eliminate a lot of confusion for both owners and veterinarians.

The only reliable way to diagnose a food allergy is with an elimination diet.

Unfortunately, performing an elimination diet it is not very convenient or easy to do. But for a horse that is suspected to be allergic to something in the diet, going through the steps of an elimination diet is the only way to give them the relief they need without compromising their health and potential usefulness as a performance horse (i.e. putting them on a hay-only diet that is imbalanced, deficient in nutrients, and can't support the demands of exercise).

How to perform an elimination diet:

1) Put the horse on a hay-only diet until allergy symptoms disappear (this may take up to 8 weeks). Ideally, a hay variety that he has never been exposed to should be fed. If symptoms do not disappear, try another variety of hay. If symptoms still do not disappear, it is probably not a food allergy that you are dealing with. Do NOT feed anything else during this time, including grain concentrates or supplements.

2) Introduce one new feed ingredient per week and monitor for the reappearance of allergy symptoms. It is best to start with whole grains/individual ingredients rather than a commercial concentrate, which may contain many different ingredients. If you suspect a beet pulp allergy, then you would want to start with plain beet pulp. Other ingredients to try would be plain oats, corn, barley, soybean meal, etc., depending on what you suspect could be the cause of the food allergy. You may eventually introduce a commercial feed to determine if that particular feed works for the horse or not.

3) If the horse starts to exhibit symptoms when a new ingredient has been introduced, discontinue feeding immediately. Now here’s the important part: once the symptoms have subsided, reintroduce that same ingredient again. This is the “challenge” that is necessary to confirm that this ingredient indeed is the source of the food allergy. If the horse starts to shows symptoms upon reintroduction, then you can confirm that the horse indeed is allergic, or at the very least has an “adverse reaction”, to this ingredient, and it should be avoided in the future.

The “take-home” message here is that food allergies can and do occur in the horse, but they are rare. And while a seemingly convenient way to test for food allergies, serum allergy testing will not give you accurate results. Performing an elimination diet is the only way to confirm whether or not your horse is allergic to something he is eating.

Friday, March 4, 2011


I can't believe its Friday again already! Springtime has a way of making the days really start to slip by quickly when you have foals on the ground and mares to get bred back. We still only have our three little ones, the next mare in line was actually due yesterday but is not really giving us much indication of being ready to foal. The new foals have all had the chance to wear a halter and start to get used to people leading them as of today. Our research work is piling up (to bring you the best new up to date products!) and we have a quarter horse breeding operation to run on top of the research projects, so there is no shortage of work to do here at the farm.